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Live Active Cultures

Seth stage-manages a manatee and meets a mermaid at Three Sisters Springs

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If you want to walk the Three Sisters boardwalk yourself, you’ll have to wait for the next open house on Feb. 11, though there are plans to build a visitors center and allow full-time public access. In the meantime, though it’s normally impossible to get the view I had on Saturday, it’s ironically easy to get an even closer look.

Though the land around the springs is protected, the river itself is a legally navigable waterway, accessible to anyone with a multimillion-dollar home on the canal or a few bucks for one of the area’s ubiquitous dive boats and kayak rentals. I watched hundreds of swimmers and paddlers rampage through the water, splashing inches above the peaceful giants. Rangers and volunteers stood by, helpless to do much more than shout warnings and issue an occasional ticket to the most egregious offenders of a vaguely worded ordinance against harassing manatees. Several dozen sea cows cowered in a small roped-off section a few hundred feet square, seemingly taking shelter from interlopers in the only tiny area mandated human-free. Here is a perfect example of what happens when wildlife conservation conflicts with property rights and tourism taxes, turning an oasis into an overcrowded theme park – money wins, manatees lose.

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